Dr. Katharine Hayhoe — Evangelical Climate Scientist

[Update:  In light of the disgusting recent attacks directed at Dr. Hayhoe, and this terrific interview we are reposting her profile from last October.]

Yes, the headline has two possible meanings, and both fit.   Texas Tech Professor of Atmospheric Science Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian,* and within that community she is evangelical about spreading the word about climate change .      Dr. Hayhoe authored a handy guide,  A Climate for Change:  Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, with her husband, an evangelical pastor.

But for communicators, the point of this post is simply this:   “be likeable.”   How?    By being open, honest and sharing a revealing passion.   After you watch the four 2-minute clips on Katharine’s page in NOVA’s “Secret Lives  of Scientists & Engineers,” you’ll feel like you know her and undoubtedly like her.     Hey, two viewers wrote afterwards that they want to marry her!   (Sorry guys, you’re too late.)

This little clip shows the importance of demystifying not just science, but scientists themselves.   Research has become so cloistered that the overwhelming majority of Americans cannot name even one living scientist.    So our images of scientists are dominated by stereotypes or old photos of Albert Einstein with that crazy hair.     Is it any wonder that when scientists try to speak to ordinary people about climate, it’s as if an alien has landed, speaking a strange tongue?

Take away for communicators:   Let your hair down and let your audience get to know something about you as a person, before you start rattling off climate facts.    If you want to get your message across, being likeable is half the battle.    That’s why marine-biologist-turned-filmaker Randy Olson devotes an entire chapter to likeability in Don’t be  Such a Scientist, his provocative handbook on effective storytelling.

Being likeable means letting your audience see you as a whole human being — passionate, flawed and striving — with whom they can identify.   That’s the genius of the NOVA “Secret Lives,” in which scientists describe their work in 3 minutes, then share their enthusiasm for some quirky hobby or pastime.

Which brings to mind a related take-home point:     Find common ground with your audience.    Audiences trust speakers more who share their values, outlook or experiences.   If not religion, it could be hunting or fishing, something in the news, your favorite hobby, the town where you live, concern for your kids, respect for the military, or a story about about your grandparents.    Our alternative climate narratives may spark some ideas for where to find common ground.

Finding common ground and being likeable will “give the facts a fighting chance.”

More from Dr. Hayhoe:

  • On a webcast for “Republicans for Environmental Protection” last year, Dr. Hayhoe delivered a one of the best slideshows for any general audiences we’ve seen, with crystal clear slides and charts that strip away the clutter to reveal key points.   You can view the slideshow and hear her narration via our climate Home Runs! collection.
  •    Here is the quick and funny 10-question Q&A session — in “secret message format” — that followed the video above:

  • More about  Dr. Hayhoe, including a web chat session, can be found at her page on PBS.


*  As Katharine mentions in the clip, she is not the only evangelical climate scientist.     See Stories/”Creation Care & Other Religious Approaches” to climate change.

6 thoughts on “Dr. Katharine Hayhoe — Evangelical Climate Scientist

  1. Tagak Curley;CM

    Dr. K. Hayhoe; PTL, bless you for the role that our Lord has given you in our planet. I from Nunavut Territorory and my Lord has given me the mandate way back ago (1970(s) for the creation of Nunavut. it has been a blessing.
    Climate change, we are, (Inuit in Canada) in some respects, most afffected in terms of rapid and most evidence of disappearance of ice caps and subejected to risk (Gore) of wildlife impact, endagered(?) in our region.
    i hope you will respond to me and lead me to some of your articles about the spiritual connection (if id is real vs temporary) nature od the climate change. I am an elected MLA in Nunavut and can find me on out legislatues webite in Nunavut. as a christiam MLA (only born again one) i find it very chalenging to address this complex issue openly in most cases.

    let me know which books i should read as i intend to occationally comment on this issue in out territorial legislature.

    I will you God’s protection and continuued wisdom upon you as you step out in faith each day,

    Tagak Curley
    Rankin Inlet, North

    1. Brian Ettling

      Mr. Curley:
      I am so sorry how climate change is affecting you, other members of your tribe, and other native peoples across the world. Are you familiar with the group, “Conversations with the Earth: Indigenous Voices on Climate Change”? I got to see the Conversations with the Earth Exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC. I happened to stumble across it on the day they were having a Symposium with native people who had flown in from Peru, northern Inuit territory in Canada, Equador, New Guinea, Ethopia, etc. It was amazing to interact with them, but sad to hear their stories how climate change is impacting them. I find it most troubling that most people just do not know that climate change has the most negative consequences for poor and native peoples of the world who just want to live in harmony with the Earth.

      Thank you so much for your message to Katharine. She is an important voice about climate change. It is awful that she has received such venomous hate mail. It is great when you stepped forward from so far away to show your support.

      Just wanted to say that you and your tribe are not alone. Tom Smerling with Climate Bites, Katharine Hayhoe, myself with my speeches as a park ranger and public citizen, and thousands of others have your “backside.” We are doing our best to educate people that climate change is real, happening right now, people are causing it, and it is harming people like you and your Nunavut nation right now.

      God bless you! I hope to come visit your beautiful area and meet you, your family and your people someday.

      Brian Ettling

  2. Tom Smerling Post author

    Mr. Curley: Thank you so much for writing. I’m forwarding this immediately to Katharine Hayhoe for her reply. I’m sure she will appreciate hearing from you.

    If we can be of any assistance directly, you can contact us directly at climatebites@gmail.com.

    I would be interested to hear more about you experience. What climate-related changes are you noticing? How are people responding? When you talk about climate issues in the legislator, and your community, what do people say?

  3. Tagak Curley;CM

    Thank you all for your replies to my comments about the imact the climate change is having on the most forbidable geographic regions like Nunavut Arctic Canada, or is it mainly Arctic region(s)?
    My caution to those many who either promotes public awareness or climates change facts be careful. evangelical, like myself, or not that some species, photogenic animals like polars be associated with risk of climate change promotors. Survival or the impact of species including Inuit and animals will depend on the RISK of our total foood chain (marine wildlife) including ring seals,ranger seals, harp seals, bearded seals and others, walrus, beluga whales and narwhales before the adorable polar begins to feel the impact of climate change as Inuit will also expience if this is happening.

    Don’t forget the FACTS, these are critical with respect to polar bears, they are increasing! ever sinced Moses loaded the two polar bears onto His ark. This a fact: Don’t listen to WWF, they are taking advantage of the good old retiree(s) for their donations.

    Educating the public is critical and important but we must have the facts about the risk and the facts of our current state which ever trend the climate change is taking us. to some of us the Arctic is still to cold.

    Tagak Curley

  4. January Pollot

    Global warming, as you may already be on familiar terms with is the process that describes the earth?s temperature climb. This rise in heat is as of greenhouse grasses. Although international warming might not have a important collision on top of your life, it is likely to have a enormous and probably devastating collision lying on the lives of your children, their children, and future generations to come. For that reason, lots of educators are attractive the time to educate their students on universal warming. In fact, you may live astounded immediately how rapidly these lessons start. When it comes to comprehensive warming and schools, you will locate that international warming is being qualified by the side of a much former period. ,:

    Have a nice day

Leave a Reply